The teaser for PG Muthiah’s upcoming Tamil movie Madura Veeran harks back to the pro-jallikattu protests that swept Chennai and many parts of Tamil Nadu in January. “What they [animal rights organisations and the courts] are attacking is not just the sport, but our culture,” a voiceover declares, setting the tone of the film. The camera pans across Marina beach in Chennai over the masses who were gathered there to protest in favour of the traditional bull-taming sport from the region.

The debutant director uses the beach protests as a reference point. He takes viewers to a ringside view of the popular sport in a village off Madurai. “The sport, its intricacies and its internal politics, that’s my focus,” Muthiah told Scroll.in. “Thanks to the Marina protests, the sport is now well-known, which makes it easier for my audience to enter my narrative. I don’t have to explain to them about what jallikattu is.”

Around six months before the pro-jallikattu protests, Muthiah, a cinematographer, had decided that he would make his debut as a director with a film on bull taming. “It was back in June last year that I had thought of making a film on the sport,” he said.But I waited because I knew it was going to be difficult to make a film on such a complex subject. Then I saw a creatively made video on the sport, which made me realise that jallikattu does indeed lend itself to a cinematic rendition. I began writing my script with increased fervour. By the end of the year, the pro-jallikattu protests took Chennai by siege. I then had to make changes to my story again.”

Madura Veeran stars Shanmugapandian, the son of veteran actor and politician Vijaykanth, Samuthirakani and Meenakshi, a debutant. “Madura Veeran is not about the Marina protests or People for Ethical Treatment of Animals,” said Muthiah. “It is about jallikattu, the sport, in its original setting.”

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Madura Veeran (2017).

Muthiah has worked as a cinematographer since 2008 on such films as Kanden Kadhalai (2009), Vandhaan Vendran (2011), Saguni (2012) and Oru Oorile Rendu Raja (2014). When he decided to direct a film, he wanted to pick a narrative close to his heart. “I’ve grown up in a small village near Thoraiyur in Trichy,” he said. “I knew my first film would be set, therefore, in an environment I’m most familiar with. For a shoot, when I went near Madurai, I did my research for the film. I had an angle in mind vaguely. What I witnessed during my visit gave credence to that angle.”

Muthiah is tight-lipped about the story angle.“The narrative will not stray outside the village,” was all he said. “It will remain with the bulls. I have included a few instances from real life as well.”

He chose Shanmugapandian for the lead role because of his father. “Everyone knows that Vijaykanth sir and Madurai are synonymous with each other,” Muthiah said. “He grew up there and even when he speaks now you can hear the Madurai slang. His son, therefore, I thought would be perfect for the role. Shanmugapandian plays the role of a man who returns to his village after living abroad for about 15 years. For Shanmugapandian too, it was like exploring his roots, while shooting for the film.”

Madura Veeran (2017).
Madura Veeran (2017).

Madura Veeran is also aligned with Muthiah’s own politics. An ardent supporter of the sport, Muthiah believes that jallikattu should not have been attacked or banned. “The IPC allows you to tie cattle to carts, kill it to eat it, but suddenly, when it comes to a sport like jallikattu, it becomes unethical,” Muthiah said. “I cannot accept a ban. That’s one of the reasons for me to make a film on the sport. Just see the kind of people the sport managed to galvanise at Marina beach. That’s because this was an attack on our culture.”

The mud that is raked up from beneath the bulls’ hooves stylishly settles on the screen. A cinematographer’s touch perhaps? Muthiah disagrees. “I don’t think I made decisions as a cinematographer in this film,” he said. “I was focusing on the overall story and the factors necessary to make it come alive on screen. If the audience begins to pick out the cinematography or the editing of a film as superlative to some other department of filmmaking, that’s a problem. A film should entertain you in its entirety, as a wholesome product.”

Madura Veeran (2017).
Madura Veeran (2017).